Somewhere in Mattoon there was once a building. And one day, on the west side of that building, the wall caved in, mottled brick pouring out into the parking lot. Words were exchanged, forms signed, crews were contracted, and before long, that building and the entire block was an empty, grassy lot. And so went the place in Mattoon that I spent just about every Saturday afternoon for about three years: Cosmic Blue Comics. Oh man…it still hurts.
If you don’t remember, Cosmic Blue Comics, pictured here in this community article from the Nov. 23, 1992, Journal Gazette, page 6, was located near Broadway and South 17th in Mattoon, in a small storefront right next to what would have been the Little Chef, under the 7Up sign that said “Book Exchange.”
What a time for comic books this was, let me tell you. On one hand, this was the quivering, annoying height of the splashy, big-gimmick “collector” era when every comic was supposed to be worth enough to put you through college when the time came, as long as you had it vacuum sealed in a bag with an acid-free backboard and locked away in your climate controlled “comic-cellar” (usually your bedroom closet), except something’s generally only worth something if it’s rare, and we were too dim to notice we all had the exact same “collector” comics in our collections.
And while I was just as prone as anybody to wasting three bucks on a “make your own cover” comic book that came with a sticker sheet, it was also the time I discovered the world of independent comics like Cerebus the Aardvark, Matt Wagner’s Grendel, and Larry Marder’s still deeply weird and awesome “Tales of the Beanworld,” a black and white comic that tried to teach the reader about the interconnectedness of closed eco-systems via a cartoon world populated by tiny bean-people who got their sustenance by soaking in a broth-bath created by one armed heads living under…um…just take my word for it.
And like I said, Cosmic Blue was pretty much my weekend clubhouse; we all knew each other there, and Saturdays at the “shop” weren’t just an opportunity to blow some hard-earned allowance money, but it was a chance to loiter at the counter poring over that week’s subscription “haul,” spend hours rifling through box after box in the shop’s backroom, discover a little thing called “Magic: The Gathering,” discover that I sucked at “Magic: The Gathering”; and argue the relative merits of bagging your comics in polypropylene as opposed to Mylar.
But the best memory of all is the saddest one.
When I found out that Cosmic Blue was shutting its doors, the first thing I thought was that there was just no way I was going to be able to get each week’s comics anymore. Sure Waldenbooks had a comic rack, but they didn’t carry any of my too-cool-for-school comics, and what they did carry was always folded over at the first staple by every moron who had flipped through the rack before me; and sure Charleston had a comic book shop too, but at that age, when you needed your parents to get you anywhere, Charleston might as well have been the moon.
What I remember most, though, was feeling that weird twist in my gut that I only realize now was my first time being faced with the idea that time was passing, and that not everything in your life that makes you happy is going to last forever, and some places you have to leave behind. You know what I’m talking about; that “last day of college-time to move away” feeling.
Over the years of hanging out there, I had enough comics stored back behind the counter in my own box, there was just no way I could buy them all before the place closed for good. Mike Fleming, the owner, pictured above, took pity on me and told me that he’d open the doors for me one last time so I could go through my box and pick out what I could afford out of there with my paltry allowance.
Man that was so sad, going in there that last time one evening after an appointment at City Hair Works. Poor guy even had to make a special trip into town just to let me in. The racks were all empty, the posters were all down; I only had enough money to buy about maybe 1/25 of what was in there, the rest were just going to go into whatever oblivion old comics go into. If you want to see the purest in mental anguish, I give you a chubby 15 year old trying to decide which 25 comic books to “save” out of a box of ten times that many.
Once I made my final purchase, he rang up on that very same old mechanical general store cash register you see in that photo, and I was on the way. And then, just before I hit the door, he bellowed out “Well, Clint, wait just a second” and he informed me that I had “won” the special “Cosmic Blue Going out of Business Sale” and the prize was, you guessed it, the rest of my storage box that I didn’t have the money to purchase. Now friends, I’d like to tell you I played it cool, but if I remember right it took everything I had to not bust out crying right there. It was then and remains now one of the most generous things anyone has ever done for me; not bad for a box of comic books.
After some final thanks and farewells, I was out the door, on my way to 16 years of age, about to leave comic books behind; the last customer of Cosmic Blue Comics in Mattoon. Sure the building is gone now, just another vacant lot among many, but I remember.